This paper analyses social, economic and political factors during the years between Syria’s independence 1946 and its unification with Egypt 1958 that led to the fall of democracy. Despite the achievements of hardwon sovereignty and the establishment of liberal institutions following 1946, the country faced numerous obstacles to democratic consolidation. Bitter social conflicts, aggravated by a deep sense of insecurity among the Syrian population, in combination with economic disparities and military intervention, led to the destabilization of the state. During its formative years, the country was not immune to anti-colonial and social unrest and Cold War rivalries. As a means to overcome these challenges, the young democracy embarked on a path of defensive modernization elevating the army to political power. In order to identify the reasons behind the fall of Syria’s democracy, this paper analyses factors such as: social conflict, institutional weakness, the rise of radical parties, the politicization of the military and the role of an unfavorable external environment. The essay draws attention to changes in class such as the weakening of Syria’s liberal elites whose legitimacy diminished as they failed to meet the challenges posed by late industrialization and foreign competition. Particular importance is attributed to the birth of a new middle class, radicalized by political parties directed against oligarchy and imperialism. This paper assumes that the democratic breakdown in Syria can be seen as a consequence of both internal developments and external pressures.
Democratic breakdown, post-independence Syria, United Arab Republic, defensive modernization, political legitimacy.